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Posts Tagged ‘lessons

I had more than one takeaway from my reflection of a Build For Tomorrow podcast. My two other reminders relevant to teaching and learning were about noise and false consensus. I focus on noise today.

Spotify source

Near the end of the podcast, one interviewed expert shared how forecasting noise could take the form of too much information and opinion. Both are barriers to asking good questions and getting meaningful answers.

The expert’s suggestion was to write a pros and cons list that you could revisit every week to examine your thinking. That could help in forecasting and a variation might help in education. 

I am thinking of a journal or blog. This is a place where learners can record their thoughts about what they are learning that week and write another entry after revisiting the previous entry.

This is not a new idea. I discovered this when I was writing the literature review of my Ph.D. dissertation 17 years ago. It was popular when students were required to journal regularly and when blogs took off. Thankfully, this is a core practice for an academic subject like Design and Technology where students need to maintain ideation journals or records.

Journalling requires the discipline of slowing down and metacognitive ability to reflect effectively (I have suggested a framework that I call a Reflective Compass). Sadly, reflection as a discipined practice does not seem to be a priority in our schooling system. I wish that more educators would help students reduce noise that interferes with learning.

Instructing recruits circa 1989.

I unearthed a photograph taken in 1989 of me when I was an infantry officer. It had decolourised so much that I converted it to greyscale so that it looks less terrible.

That year marked my first official stint as an instructor. My corporals and I were teaching recruits how to dig shell scrapes and use them as cover.

Several memories flooded back, but two in particular are lessons that I have remembered since that time. The first was how objective data can become subjective according to the whims of higher-ups. The second was that doing nothing sometimes is doing something.

To give me something to write about, I reflect on these lessons over the next two days.

What might you learn from a tweet?A lot, if you think about it.

Let’s start with something simple — spelling matters. Not because your English teacher said so, but because it is fundamental to good communication.

The tweet below is a reminder than just because you can does not mean you should. If you do, you might create dread instead of desire.

One example of the principle above is pointless meetings. Administrators in particular like meetings because they consider that to be work. The problem is that most meetings do not work.

Changing gears, another lesson is that a plan is only as good as its implementation. These socks had a message that looked good in design, but had an entirely different message in practice.

And finally, making projections is often part of planning. The problem with looking too far ahead or using the wrong lens is making wrong predictions.

These are just a few lessons and reminders from recent tweets I shared in my timeline. Their lessons are often not earth-shattering or immediately obvious. Like any good lesson, the learner needs to put in the effort to learn.

Today I try to link habits of an app use to a change in teaching.

Like many Singaporeans, I have had months of practice using the location aware app, SafeEntry, to check in and out of venues. We do this in a collective contract tracing effort during the current pandemic.

You cannot forget to check in because you need to show the confirmation screen to someone at the entrance. However, you can easily forget to check out* because, well, you might mentally checked out or have other things on your mind.

Therein lies a flaw with the design and implementation of the app. Instead of making both processes manual, the app could be semi-automatic. It could have a required manual check in at entrances, but offer automated exits.

How so? The mobile app is location-aware. It has a rough idea where you are and can suggest where to check in. This is why the manual check in is better — the human choice is more granular.

However, when people leave a venue, the app could be programmed to automatically check them out if the app detects that they are no longer there over a period of, say, 10 minutes. I say give the option to user for a manual check out or an automated one.

*The video below reported that checking out is not compulsory. But not checking out creates errors in contact tracing, i.e., we do not know exactly where a person has been and for how long. This not only affects the usability of the data but also inculcates blind user habits.

Video source

For me, this is a lesson on rethinking teaching during the pandemic by using awareness as key design feature. It is easy to just try to recreate the classroom room and maintain normal habits when going online or adopting some form of hybrid lessons.

But this does not take advantage of what being away from the classroom or being online offers. The key principle is being aware of what the new issues, opportunities, and affordances are, e.g., isolation, independence, customisation.

Making everyone to check in and out with SafeEntry is an attempt to create a new habit with an old principle (the onus is all on you). This does not take advantage of what the mobile app is designed to do (be location aware).

Likewise subjecting learners to old expectations and habits (e.g., the need to be physically present and taking attendance) does not take advantage of the fact that learning does not need to be strictly bound by curricula and time tables.

The key to breaking out of both bad habits is learning to be aware of what the app user and learner thinks and how they experience the reshaped world. This design comes from a place of empathy, not a position of authority.

I agree with those who say that we can learn a lot from Netflix about how we might school and educate learners, but not in the way you might think.

Proponents of the Netflix way might refer to viewing on-demand or its recommendation engine, but those focus on the relatively superficial technological affordances of making viewing more efficient.

I would rather focus on what makes learning more effective. With that in mind, I have started thinking about the “pedagogy” of Netflix, i.e., how some shows follow common designs that educators might emulate.

A caveat: Not all Netflix shows are winners. The best are what some might call slow burns, e.g., Ozark, Criminal: UK, The Queen’s Gambit.

Netflix's Ozark, Criminal: UK, and The Queen's Gambit.

The most intriguing shows draw viewers in with non-linear narratives. This means that a story is not told sequentially from A to Z. A show like The Queen’s Gambit is not afraid to go back in time to provide backstories.

In a classroom, this might apply to curricular redesign. Most curricula are designed with standards and examinations at the head and tail end. Both result in a “just-in-case you need this later” design, i.e., what students learn is not used immediately or meaningfully.

The willingness of a teacher to leave a linear design and provide just-in-time information contrasts with the orderliness of most curricula. But this also focuses on what the learner needs most at the time. This could mean that a math teacher who realises that students have a language deficit will address that gap first instead of sticking to the math scheme of work.

A show like Criminal assumes that the audience is smart and curious. It does not provide all the answers and actually hides some information. The viewers become participants as we put the pieces together by discussing the gaps with others and/or by figuring things out on our own.

The application of this to schooling and education is not that educators carelessly teach and exclude information randomly. There is a method to the apparent madness — it is called needs analysis that informs pedagogical/content design. The design invariably includes an emphasis on peer teaching and critical reflection.

If there is a winner of the slow-burn award, it should go to Ozark. It is show that provides shocking moments largely because the rest of the movement is languid. Its not-afraid-to-go-slow might be a storytelling device that is akin to slow cooking.

Likewise, not everything needs to be taught a breakneck speed or rely on flashy demonstrations. Much of learning is a slow and mundane struggle. Students do not give up because there is a constant dance between what a teacher encourages and what a student needs to do. The learning environment is not limited to the classroom and not dominated by the teacher.

I would be the first to point out that Netflix is designed to provide entertainment and not to be a source of professional development for teachers. But I would also point out that we can learn from any experience if we watch carefully, reflect critically, and apply meaningfully.

This STonline article claimed that we have five things to learn from our enforced home-based learning (HBL) — our version of emergency remote teaching. They were:

  1. Crossover lessons
Recorded lessons
  3. Homework by video
  4. Parents as teacher aides
  5. Gamification

I call them claims because these are arguments based on anecdotes, not rigorous studies or critical reflections on practice. To be fair, a newspaper is not an educational journal or teaching website. To be balanced, I provide some critique.

Crossover lessons are what the author said were those conducted at home that could be replicated in the classroom. The lesson on building models at home to illustrate concepts in physics was not quite that. It seemed more like a transfer of a classroom activity to the home. It was a crossover, but not in the direction the author intended.

How about recorded lessons? The author did not say anything about the quality of such lessons, just that they are useful for whenever-whatever learning emergency. The latter is still the conversation piece, but we need to move on to lessons worth recording.

A good point raised about homework by video was that students who might not write well might find such homework to their advantage — they can record video and/or audio of themselves. A takeaway could have been about reaching learners, not homework per se. After all, video homework can still be busy work or it can hold back learners who are more reticent.

How about parents as teacher aides? This should have been about the home environment supporting what happens in the classroom. Instead, it was reduced learning styles (note the reference to “kinaesthetic learner”). This was a step backward in educational progress as it ignored research that debunks learning styles.

Gamification. Ugh. This is overused, misunderstood, and overhyped. There was nothing in the article that broke the mould of “gamification” be it in the classroom or online. If there is no change, there is no learning.

For some strange reason, the author or editor of the piece decided that the last anecdote about the “compassion and empathy” of teachers was left for last and put under the header of gamification. These traits have little to do with gamification and could have been the focus on an article. But who wants to read about teachers learning more about their students and connecting better with them, right?

This is a reflection on yesterday’s reflection about doing less but better.

I took this photo in the restroom of a London eatery in 2015. It includes an oft cited quote that “less is more”.

Quote on the mirror at Zizzi, Little Venice (London, 2015).

I studied under two notable distance and online educators. One of them liked to say this: Less is less, more is more. It was his way of saying that preparing and conducting online courses was a lot more work than people bargained for.

I agree. I experienced that myself as a designer and creator of online content and as a facilitator of online professional development and courses. The more is more principle was true whether I was operating in the USA or in Singapore.

A low estimate for how long it takes to simply convert an hour-long face-to-face session is about 20 hours. So converting one university in-person class that is three hours long might take about 60 hours of preparatory, facilitative, and follow up work.

Is this 1:20 ratio realistic? Just consider the preparatory work: Planning, re-reading existing material and/or reading new material for relevance, learning new technical skills, creating new artefacts like audio, animations, or video, etc. If you do not do this by yourself, you need to include the time invested by those you work with. The 1:20 ratio might start to look unrealistic only because you need more than 20 hours!

The ratio is just for converting a course so that it is suitable for basic online consumption. Imagine if you want to design and implement something transformative. For example, you might decide that information delivery is not sufficient for adult learners and that leveraging on their experiences matters. Simply finding out what matters to such learners is an investment of time and effort. Now factor in the design and implementation of learning experiences that require sharing, peer teaching, critiquing, etc.

So trying to redesign for simplified remote teaching — doing less but better — takes more work. But the opposite can also happen. Someone who puts in little design effort might create busy work for learners. Busy work is the equivalent of checking off tasks in chores or shopping list instead of participating in meaningful learning and reflective thinking.

The sad fact is that it is easier to do less but worse. And even if you put in a lot of effort, your rewards are not guaranteed. The tweet below illustrates that pictorially.

If there is anything we might learn from emergency remote teaching it is this: We will realise who we are, what we value, and how we respond in a crisis. Some will choose to do as little as possible to the detriment of their stakeholders. Others will put in earnest effort in redesigning and implementing emergency remote lessons, while little actually pans out as expected. Even fewer will learn from those failures or succeed at first try.

That last group will do more in their bid to do less but better or to learn from their mistakes. They are the ones we should appreciate and learn from. Will we?

Video source

This video is not the first resource to outline how air and water pollution have dropped since the implementation of COVID-19 measures like home-based learning, work from home, and travel restrictions.

The interviewees in the video emphasised that the pandemic was not a good way to check our harm on the environment. But they also wondered how we might change our collective behaviours when we resume normalcy.

Might we learn to manage with less? Might employers and employees opt to telecommute more? Might schools and education institutes learn the value of going online?

The answers to these and other related questions present opportunities for us to show what we have learnt and to change our ways. So will we?

I share perspectives from two authors, one from higher education and another who focused on K-12 schooling.

In his Inside Higher Ed piece, John Warner (appropriate surname) warned us:

… all this is happening midyear against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

The idea that we are running any kind of systematic experiment is, to use a nonscientific term, bonkers. We are in a period of emergency distance instruction, not online learning.

Warner suggested that we take the opportunity to reflect on and to reshape our values. We might start this process by asking ourselves WHO we teach and WHY we teach in certain ways.

In his two-part series [1] [2], Larry Cuban suggested that in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, parents of school children would most likely appreciate the “custodial function of schools”. I agree. In Singapore, we like school so much that we send our kids to school after school, i.e., tuition.

Cuban also posited that the efficiency of e-learning might tempt a cash-strapped or downsizing systems to consider e-learning over face-to-face classes. However, he expected such initiatives to “remain peripheral to the core work of teachers meeting their students daily”. In other words, let the “e” in e-learning go back to being emergency or extra.

Cuban was not optimistic that an intense period of e-learning would move the needle on changing the duration of school days, terms, or semesters. People who argue that competency-based learning should supercede time-based instruction will keep shouting themselves hoarse because a) school hours are childcare hours, and b) maintaining e-learning systems is expensive.

What do I think?

I think that if the duration of our response to pandemic extended to critical examination periods, we will be forced to rely on project work, cumulative continual assessments, and daily work.

Exams might be disrupted and even cancelled, but they are likely to return because we focus on what is easy to measure (short-term retention, grades) instead of what is difficult to pursue (long term learning, portfolios).

In short, I expect most people to heave a collective sigh of relief and revert to old habits. But I hold out hope that enough of us will change the rules that little bit more so that we are that little bit better.

You need only take a few minutes to observe how kids and some young adults use their bags and other property to reserve tables in food courts or fast food joints. So I wonder if parents or schools have not taught kids to value their belongings.

I resumed my teaching semester at a local university recently. During lunch, an undergrad sharing my table left his iPhone X in his place. If he had done this anywhere else in the world, he would be an ex-iPhone owner.

Maybe I am just getting old and judgemental. But maybe I am right and should offer what I once taught were unnecessary life lessons.

Then again, maybe I do not need to teach anything for someone else to learn. Experiencing loss is a harsh but effective lesson.

I started using Padlet when it was still WallWisher. I appreciate its reliability, user-friendliness, and growing feature set.

I have shared previously the different ways I use Padlet for my courses and workshops.

How I use Padlet.

Recently I repurposed a new template — an org-chart — to simulate a concept map. That “connected” look provided a better visual message to an activity that I have relied on for years.

However, that simple change was a disaster. I found out in class that only I had edit-rights to the connected notes; my students could not edit the notes assigned to them. In highlight, I should have tested the new template in incognito browser mode.

Thankfully, a student suggested a workaround: Since they could add new editable notes, they could slide them over my templated notes. This worked nicely.

My reminders from this experience are to 1) not take thorough testing for granted, and 2) always consider the insights of students. I should see things before they do, and if I do not, they can see things I cannot.


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